UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Who Needs Social Networks? I’ve Got Opera Unite

Posted by Brian Kelly on 16 June 2009

Opera, the browser vendor, have released a new version of their browser, Opera Unite. And they launched their browser will the slogan “Today, we reinvent the Web“. So what’s behind this rather grandiose claim?

Well:

Opera Unite allows you to easily share your data: photos, music, notes and other files. You can even run chat rooms and host entire Web sites with Opera Unite. It puts the power of a Web server in your browser, giving you greater privacy and flexibility than other online services.

In addition:

What if you use Opera at home, and a different Web browser at work? Opera Unite services can be accessed from any modern browser, including mobile browsers! At home, just select what you want to share, and you can view it later using your work Web browser without any problems.

A post on Mashable.com sums this up nicely “Opera Unite: Web Browser Becomes the Web Server“. But do we need another Web server environment? Do we need the ability of every networked PC to be able to share files? What are the networking implications? What are the security implications? How will we find the stuff?

I suspect this may the the reaction of members of institutional Web teams. But, on the other hand, mightn’t this free us from a reliance of the commercial sector and the concerns we have over companies such as Facebook? And might not the innovative e-learning developers welcome the opportunity to explore how the sharing of learning resources and the use of collaborative technologies can be provided without having to rely on the local Web services team whilst avoiding the need to deal with companies such as Google and Facebook. Opera, it might appear, are unlikely to have a desire to take over the networked world as Google, Facebook and Microsoft want to do.

Have Opera really reinvented the Web? And is this announcement good news or bad? Or perhaps it is irrelevant – this is file sharing for home users and need not concern those of us who work in a networked environment?

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16 Responses to “Who Needs Social Networks? I’ve Got Opera Unite”

  1. I quite like it. Beats waiting for IPv6… I think XMPP will end up as part of the picture though…

  2. Joss Winn said

    Opera haven’t re-invented the web, but if other browsers adopt this approach, it could lead to a transformation of the browser as ‘client’ software. My first question remains: “How can this be ported to Firefox?” If something is going to reinvent the web, it can’t be done through a proxy hosted by a single company and a close-source browser. We need to see other implementations of Unite. I can’t help comparing Opera’s announcement to Google’s announcement of Wave. Within minutes of hearing about Wave, we were told that it’s an open platform, using open standards and an open protocol. That’s all I needed to know to take it seriously as potentially ‘game changing’. Looking through Opera’s documentation, the source code to Unite libraries is available so people can build Unite services for the Opera browser but I can’t see documentation or source for the part of Opera which is ‘Unite’. If I’ve overlooked something, I’d really like someone to tell me because it could have lots of potential as you point out.

    And it’s ironic that on the eve of the Digital Britain report, which will have lots to say about Copyright and the ‘creative industries’, Opera announce Unite with an example media sharing service that allows anyone to publicly host their music collections for anyone to listen to. :-)

  3. Hi Joss – I too was aware of the irony of the timing of this announcement and the Digital Britain report (just published, I think. If British ISPs have legal responsibilities to prevent copyright infringement could they block access to Opera Unite, I wonder?

  4. As the old joke goes:

    Q: How many Opera users can you get in a Mini?
    A: All of them…

  5. Billy said

    I tried to look into this this morning but I’m blocked at the first stage on our network (can’t install Opera). Looks like more personal development in my own time and using my own facilities tonight!…

  6. This sounds as if it could be really exciting, and perhaps be the underpinning for the PLE?

  7. This is totally the sort of approach I was thinking of for a PLE, so there is something very solid there.

  8. Should we all really be encouraging everyone to be leaving their computers on 24/7? No. That’s what (hopefully) efficient servers are for. Faster machines, bigger bandwidth, (hopefully again) more reliable.

    There’s not much impact when only us geeks are leaving our machines on 24/7 running our own personal servers, but if something like this took off I’m sure the impact would be felt somewhere.

  9. people will leave their machines running – they won’t always be desktop computers – put one of these on your home media center and access your media library (including subscriptions) anywhere in the world.

  10. Joss –

    The Opera Unite services will be W3C Widgets, same as in our Wookie/Moodle Wave stuff.The main developer is on the W3C web apps spec team.

    Unlike Wave, where the open standards are in fact just *published* rather than *open*. For example, Austin Chau at Google just unilaterally closed my issue asking for the Wave Gadget State API to follow the HTML5 Storage API method rather than invent new methods; the only open part is the federation protocol, which is based on XMPP. On standards, Google have not exactly been playing it the way they’ve been saying it.

    S

    • Joss said

      Thanks Scott. I can see that the unite services are open and opera have always been rigorous about open standards but can’t see any documentation about how to take this beyond the opera browser and opera proxy. You have a better technical understanding of this than I do. Is it clear to you how a unite compatible service might be served from Firefox in the future?

  11. Joss – I don’t see in principle why you can’t already do this from Firefox; the key requirement is for someone to have a good-sized proxy server running to reflect the requests from users to the browser/server. If Mozilla were happy to run such a thing, well, then its doable.

    I can also see Apple getting in on the act with a Safari/MobileMe combo, and Google with Chrome/Apps – fundamentally this isn’t a difficult problem to solve; its really whether its something users want, and is worth doing.

    The only thing that seems proprietary at the moment is the extension Opera have developed for the I/O from Widgets to the user’s file system and to browser services – though if others wanted to use it they could just take that to W3C (and most likely would do so)

    • Joss Winn said

      That’s good to hear, Scott. On the point about a proxy server, I’ve just found a discussion over on reddit with one of the principle developers of Unite. He states that the proxy is only used when UPnP is not supported: “If you connect using UPnP, no traffic goes through our servers. If you use the proxy, all the traffic passes through.” It’s also nice to see this comment from the Opera developer: “while you can certainly share files through Unite, it’s not really about “file sharing”, but “personal web services.” And as you say, Scott, when asked about porting it to other browsers, he says: “Most of Unite is already built on open standards, or stuff we have proposed for standardization.” … “Don’t think of Unite as a “product” as such. It’s an application platform that allows you to write whatever it is you want using standardized technologies.”

      There’s lots more from him that’s worth reading here:

      More info here: http://www.reddit.com/r/programming/comments/8svh8/opera_unite/

  12. I haven’t read the specs fully yet, but from a 10 minute scan, it looks as though Opera Unite uses Opera proxy servers in order to avoid firewall issues.

    Which means this isn’t a true point-to-point decentralised network, but is in fact centralised with a single point of failure at Opera’s proxy server. I also couldn’t see a way of using the service with your own URL (you seem to get given a subdomain of operaunite.com

    Now, if the services become an open standard, as Scott suggests above, and if we can run our own proxy servers rather than using Operas, then this could be interesting.

    They’ve over-hyped it a little if you ask me though.

    • Joss Winn said

      I agree that they\’ve over hyped it but I think the discussion on reddit (http://www.reddit.com/r/programming/comments/8svh8/opera_unite/) answers both of your concerns about their proxy and the use of your own domain. If your router supports UPnP, then you don\’t need to use their proxy and traffic is direct. Apparently the server runs on port 8040 so the user could point their own domain at that if they had the know how. So technically, it seems to be open and flexible as Scott points out above.

  13. Firefox, Plain Old Webserver: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/3002

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